There is very often a selfish motivation behind our service to God. This becomes evident when one realizes that any way you cut it, self (aka “flesh”) is the primary concern and aim behind a mentality which consists of fear of punishment or desire for reward. Because God has no dealings with flesh, having ended it at the cross in Jesus Christ, the gospel of His son negates this “reward and punishment” system completely. So rather than serving God fearfully or selfishly, or trying to make the flesh better when God has rejected it completely, let’s try to start from the ground up in understanding how to walk in the Spirit and please God.
I think one of the hardest things for many believers to see and accept is what Jesus meant when he said in John 3:6: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Understanding this foundational truth will tend to WRECK a religious person’s whole world, which may be why it’s rarely given a thorough examination by those who earn their living preaching and teaching (and thus rarely thought about by believers who follow these people). As Upton Sinclair once said: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”
To me, the essence of this statement by Jesus is that the origin of something determines its permanent state – either flesh (the mind and heart of natural man), or the spirit (the mind and heart of God). Men tend to wrongly label as “spiritual” things which appeal to sight or reason – things which seem good and sensible and efficient and useful. However, all of these things may actually originate in the heart and mind of man, and according to Jesus, will always be flesh and thus of zero spiritual value, being dead and worthless to God. Jesus said in John 6:63: “It is the spirit who gives life. The flesh profits nothing.” Similarly, something which may appear strange or bad or inefficient or useless may actually be born of the spirit of God and thereby full of life and glory.
Think about it – hasn’t God always worked in ways contrary to men? Does it really seem logical or “good” to save the world by sending your son as a baby, who will grow into a man, live a life of obscurity, suffering and persecution, and then be humiliated, tortured and murdered? Does that really seem to be the best way to cultivate the salvation of mankind?! I don’t think any sane person would come up with or condone such a plan. Those who look at things according to the flesh still see this plan of God as utter foolishness. What’s amazing is God set up such a foolish plan on purpose.
In 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, Paul wrote this:
“For the word of the cross is folly (foolishness) to those who are perishing (those in the flesh), but to us who are being saved (those in the spirit) it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (The wisdom and ways of God/spirit are opposed and seem foolish to the wisdom and ways of man/flesh). For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, (God designed it so that the wisdom of men would not be able to discern spiritual truth!) it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (a message which the natural man/flesh can not accept), but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
Again, what Paul is saying is God DESIGNED it so that the fleshly mind will never perceive wisdom or truth in the foolish message of “Christ crucified.” Why? Because even in simply believing, God will not have any flesh to take part.
If you or I want to start walking the way of Christ, one good place to start is to begin thinking in terms of origin (flesh or spirit, Adam or Christ) instead of appearance (good or bad, useful or useless, efficient or inefficient). Doing so isn’t always easy, and I’m certainly not saying I have mastered this myself. Yet I want to walk in the spirit, I want to help establish the reign of God instead of the reign of man (which includes religions like Christianity). Don’t you? However, do we really think this won’t require any drastic changes, diligent seeking, or hardship? Have we somehow thought that our particular religious upbringing or group, unlike the thousands of others, is the correct one? Do we really think we are immune to deception still? WRONG! We have to repent, over and over. These things will be a process, and not always an easy one.
Now, I’m not saying we should be constantly examining every little thing we or others do or say, fearful about whether it’s pleasing to God or not. Like I said earlier, the mentality of “reward and punishment” is entirely fleshly anyway, and plenty of fleshly things are fine and even necessary right now. What I’m saying is simply that we need to be mindful that no matter appearances or feelings, only what is born (originates from) the spirit (divine nature of God, His essence) will remain and have worth. The rest, including the vast majority of the religious thinking and activity and that encompass the world today, is the “wood, hay and stubble” that is being and will be burned up1 by the fire that IS God!2
Hard as this may be to accept, the most dangerous things are those things which are born of flesh but claim and appear to be spirit. This is primarily the majority of religious teaching and practice all over the world. It is these often pleasant or inspiring things which deceive ignorant3 souls into wasting their energy on things that will be burned up. This is what Jesus was referring to when he said in Matthew 6:23: “If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!“ What he meant is if what you know as “light” (spiritual truth/understanding) is actually darkness (things born of flesh/man), you’re actually in a deeper, more powerful state of darkness. These souls who cling to things born of flesh, I believe, will be saved, but “so as through fire.”4 That’s not a light thing. And the souls who know better but continue to label flesh as spirit and influence others to do the same…well I don’t want to be there, that’s for sure.
Finally, I believe what 2 Peter 3:10 (and 1 Corinthians 3 below) discusses is actually beginning now: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” This is actually a very telling passage, which I wrote more about here. It’s referring to spiritual things, not physical. The “elements” aren’t things like carbon or iron, and the “works” in the earth aren’t physical structures. This is literally saying that the “day of the Lord” is a day of purification by fire (i.e. the presence of God), and will ultimately consume and destroy EVERYTHING that is founded on flesh instead of spirit. That might include some physical things, but more than anything this day will destroy man-originated doctrines, ideas, religions, power structures, etc. And if someone’s whole inward life is founded on flesh, all that will be burned up too! Read the link above for more evidence of this. It’s actually quite plain if you have ears to hear and eyes to see.
God bless you guys. The spirit once told me, clearly and out of the blue: “progress is perfection.” One thing essential to (or even the same as) progress is purification. By it’s very definition, purification is a process of removal; identifying and getting rid of things which aren’t desirable, so that only the desirable (spirit) remains. That sounds a lot like 2 Peter saying that in the day of the Lord “the elements will be dissolved with fervent heat.” It’s going to burn, bad, if you have chosen to hold to things of flesh/Adam, instead of humbling yourself, repenting, and letting them go. Read the link above! God bless you.
1 Corinthians 3:12-13 WEB (R)): “But if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or stubble; each man’s work will be revealed. For the Day will declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself will test what sort of work each man’s work is.”
Hebrews 12:25: “For our God is a consuming fire.”
1 Corinthians 12:1: “Now concerning spiritual things, brothers, I don’t want you to be ignorant.” Ephesians 4:17-18: “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their hearts;
1 Corinthians 3:15 WEB (R)): “If any man’s work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, but as through fire.”